An upclose picture flooded with green and red light and showing a robot's jointed fingers typing on a computer keyboard symbolising AI take-over

To AI or Not to AI? That’s the Writing Question

The writing world’s all abuzz about the use of artifical intelligence (AI), especially with the rapid rise over the last few years of the technology. While the development of AI has been inevitable since the first computer was programmed, several recent events in the writing world have launched the use of technology into the spotlight.

Today, the writers of the Insecure Writers Support Group are sharing opinions on the role of AI in creative writing, whether for small projects (such as writing the dreaded synopsis) or larger projects, such as writing an entire book.

So, what happened recently that made AI a hot topic for writers?

Oh…so much.

For starters, a seemingly sudden bubble of AI generated books made news headlines:

  • The AI generated book The FIre and Fury, published about the Maui fires just days after the devastation began, became a best seller,
  • Published and marketed workbooks devised by AI as ‘companions’ to published works, but NOT condoned or approved by the actual authors of the books. In fact, some of the workbooks or companion books were published…before the author’s original book was launched!
  • Fake books generated by AI and published using another author’s actual name have been published, such as these 5 books never authored or approved by Jane Friedman, a well-known and respected voice in the writing community,
  • A fully AI generated book won a second place award in China,
  • Rie Kudan won a prestigious award, later admitting to using AI to write about 5% of the book.
a sleeping AI giant reresented by a giant face made of sand coming out of a sand dune

Waking the sleeping AI giant

Some writers are excited about the explosion of AI technology. Why? Writers have cited the benefits of using AI for generating story and plot ideas, writing the synopsis (which writers often find challenging), and generally ‘hurrying up’ the lengthy process of writing novels. With AI, writers have made claims that the timeline from writing to publication of a book can be whittled down to a few short months or even a matter of days. Yes, days!

But writer’s should be careful what they ask for. They might just get it. With the rapid ascent into widespread use, AI writing brings with it a host of concerns, including plagiarism, fraud, evenue loss for writers, reputation tarnishing, and the possible downfall of the creative writing industry.

Let’s dive in.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The good

AI programs can (and have had) a viable place in the writing world. From algorithm-based editing suggestions (such as misspelled words or poor grammar identification), some lower levels of AI have been in use for some time. Think Grammarly. (Even as I am writing this, WordPress is offering the option for AI-driven content.) Mid-high, high schools, and colleges have been using AI on some level to assess plagiarism in submitted essays for well over a decade.

The bad

But if AI utility in writing were only about these process enhancements and plagiarism identification, we wouldn’t be having this debate amongst the Insecure Writer’s Support Group bloggers today. The problem, as demonstrated above, stems from the fact that AI is being used to generate books (either in part or in full). And to fully understand just why that is a concern, we must first talk about just how AI goes about writing those books.

How does AI write (books)?

AI writing is created through a series of specific writing prompts that cause the computer to respond using a compilation of writing it has been previously exposed to.

What does that mean?

It’s a fancy way of saying the computer has been loaded with the writing of many books. When the ‘writer’ poses very specific requests, the computer will reach into all the books it ‘knows,’ analyze what content answers the request, and then re-formulate it in writing. For example, you can ask AI to ‘write a mystery short story in the style of Agatha Christie.’ The computer will spit out a mystery story that will mimic the voice and writing style of Agatha Christie.

“Oh, cool!” you might say.

But where did all those books come from that were ‘taught’ to the computer? In one case, e-books were used to teach Books3, an AI writing computer within the Meta coporation. Those e-books were sources from online sites. No authors were asked permission to use their work. No authors were paid commission or offered compensation if parts of their work were spit back out by the computer algorithm as part of a ‘newly written’ book. When a list of books used to train the Book3 AI program was released as part of a lawsuit, authors were shocked to find their names among works stolen, including Nora Roberts (over 200 books) and Mary H.K.Choi.

The ugly

  • Copyright infringement: The programmers of these AI writing programs are not asking the original authors for permission for the computer to potentially reuse their work in part or in it’s entirety. That can result in copyright infringement, especially if the writing is substantially similar to the original work. So far, the AI programmers seem to have had a blatant disregard for this legality, developing an industry founded upon stealing writer’s ideas and promoting the computer-generated remix of the writer’s ideas as an original creation.
  • Copycats, knock-offs, and fraud: I’ve already mentioned a few of the less honest outcomes of AI generated stories. Unscrupulous ‘writers’ are able to use online blogs and previous books from authors to program AI generators to recreate the voice and style of an author, then publish works using names close enough to the original author that readers may be fooled. In a number of cases, the original author’s actual name was used!
  • Reputation: We work hard as writers to develop our brand and style of writing and to cultivate a following of readers that love our stories and want more. We pride ourselves in the care we take developing stories, the character arcs, the plot lines, etc. But AI generated stories, at least at the current programming technology, are still in their infancy of learning creative prose. The writing style and voice have been mismatched, stories have been reported to be choppy, with circular content and poorly written. But these knock-offs represent themselves as the original writer to garner sales (that’s fraud). How would you feel if one of your steadfast readers told you they just bought your most recent release (which you, uhm, didn’t even release yet) and the reader was disappointed in the work. What if your readers start posting online reviews about your sub-par work?
  • Revenue: Who’s getting the income from the sales of these knock-off books using your name? Not you.
  • Whack-a-mole- It sounds like it should be easy to find these fake works, notify Amazon or Good Reads, etc., get them removed, and move on. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Why?
    • Large organizations like Amazon can be very slow to respond to complaints. Worse, they may not be eager to help remove the fake books. In Jane Friedman’s case, she had to fight against Amazon’s refusal to take the books down, aruguing that her name was not trademarked. She had to fight a second time to get them removed from her Good Reads account, where they had shown up as “hers.”
    • Multiple books: While you are chasing the removal of the one book you know about, others may begin to pop-up. It’s nearly impossible to keep watch over all book sale sites to see where copycats have cropped up. The Fire and Fury was, eventually, successfully removed from Amazon (see here for Jane Friedman’s battle with Amazon). But, as I looked today, it’s back on Amazon again, under a new ‘author’s name’ and listed as a ‘remix of the previous books, by Pearl O, complete with a bio and author page.
    • Multiple vendor sites: The books may have lready been picked up by other sales platforms, such as Barnes and Noble. Soon, the fakes are snaking their way through numerous sales platforms, damaging your reputation and making money off it as well.
Man grabbing his head in front of a computer from writing frustration

What’s next?

The world of writing, from agents accepting submissions to writing guilds and awards sponsors are scrambling to create rules and regulations related to the use of AI generated works of writing, including:

  • Considerations about how AI is generated,
  • Requirements for original authors to be asked for permission and compensated for the use of their work,
  • Literary agency and publisher rules regarding submission of AI generated manuscripts, and
  • Notification to the public (identifying that part of the work was generated by AI)

In addition, actions, such as the Writers Guild recent strike demanding limits on AI use in writing film and TV show scripts will drive discussions. The Federal Trade Commission recently made some initial statements regarding AI use of works on creative platforms. And the decisions resulting from ongoing lawsuits, such as those involving the work of Jodi Piccoult, John Grisham, and David Baldacci (just to name a few) will define the future of AI generated written work.

Woman with long brown hair and blue blouse looking thoughtful with a large question mark near her head

So, to AI or not to AI?

The original task for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hoppers this month was to discuss how we feel about AI’s impact on creative writing and if we have used (or would) AI to generate writing, either in part (such as a synopsis) or in in whole.

While I’m fine with the role AI has played in support processes for writing (such as word or phrase suggestion), I do not condone nor support the use of AI in creative writing.

Why?

  • It’s lazy. For most of us, writing is a passion. It’s hard. Not everyone can (or should) do it. Few stick it out until the end, through the months of story development, character arcs, editing (and successive re-edits), and plunging into the pitching (or publishing) world. Writing the ‘hard stuff,’ like stuggling through a synopsis, makes writers better. Punching keys on a computer to have it spit the synopsis out, does not. If I reach a time when I’d rather have a computer write my books for me, I’ll know it’s time to leave writing and find something I enjoy enough to do myself.
    • If you need some ideas for stories, here are a few posts to check out:
  • It’s supporting copyright infringement and theft of creative work. Using the AI program essentially supports the process of stealing authors books to use them for someone else’s gain. Watch out what you support. That stolen work and income may someday be yours.
  • It’s supports fraud. It’s supporting an industry and helping create a market for a product that is being blatantly abused, with little legal recourse for authors that are impacted.
  • It’s a cheat. It quite simply is taking other writers words and ideas and using them without their permission, even if they are not in the same format.
  • It supports the degradation of writing quality. These AI books flooding the market are poorly written, and can drive down both customer satisfaction and trust in the quality of work their money will buy, further damaging a struggling industry for authors.

I hope this has given you some fuel for thought about the growth and tragectory of AI in the writing world, as well as YOUR role in helping shape the creative writing environment of the future.

Drop into the comments below and let me know what you think!

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Meet other writers-blog hop link:

Other IWSG authors willing to share ideas and offer support along this writing journey can be found at the blog hop links (below). And please visit my co-hosts for this month: Kristina Kelly, Jean Davis, and Liza @ Middle Passages!

47 Comments

  1. Lots of great details here. I remember when Fire and Fury came out–I see it’s now delisted by both Amazon and B&N, but that doesn’t mean whoever published it didn’t make a bunch of money off of it. There are so many moving parts with this topic.

  2. Fascinating information here. Well stated. I live in a small bubble. I had no idea that the cheats were stealing authors’ names and gaining from their thievery. I am bowled over by this boldness. I hate that someone would be so dishonest to fake a book and take a celebrity author name to market it. And to train AI using books with no permission to do so. You opened my eyes to the treachery in the publishing business and amazon not fighting it. Thanks for your research and for co-hosting IWSG!

  3. WOW! Thanks for all the info I wish I didn’t have to know as an author of original work. I’ve been in the biz since submitting my first novel from a typewritten copy I had to make page by page. Thoughts of theft (like WHO would want to steal MY work?!) never occurred to me. Now it’s a real concern. While I don’t think I have to worry about someone importing “In the style of Nancy Gideon” into their computer at this point, the idea that someone can and that they do pirate other authors’ work is appalling. And yes, theft.

  4. Thank you so much for a truly illuminating post, Miffie. The specificity helps us all to learn how AI created books damages the industry, authors, and readers. Thank you so much for all you do to inform writers here at IWSG. And thanks for cohosting today. All best to you!

  5. Indeed. If it’s not something I’m passionate about enough to do myself, I’m not doing it anymore. Attempting success on the stolen/uncredited work of others is just wrong.

  6. Thanks for co-hosting today, Miffie, and for such an excellent post (I have bookmarked it). I didn’t know that AI had already become such a big problem for authors. Enjoy IWSG Day!

  7. This is a well-thought-out post! I agree that there are dangers with AI. I hate to see it steal ideas and pass them off as creativity. When used as a tool to do the busy work, AI is helpful, but the risks may outweigh the benefits.

  8. Yay, you! I knew the first time I heard the title that “The Grim Reader” would be a hit 😉 Congratulations on all the success. Thanks for sharing the pros and cons of AI in such a calm yet candid manner. And thank you for co-hosting IWSG today!

  9. I use AI, in the form of ProWritingAid, to fix my commas and tell me where I can tighten things. But I haven’t used it to actually write a story. I think that’s where I find it falls short in its helpfulness.

    Thanks for co-hosting!

  10. Well written and impressive examples of theft and ripoff. Given the worldwide access to creative material, I don’t see how we can regulate the creative use of AI. Having said that, I sincerely hope someone discovers a way to rein in this amazing tool.
    Thanks for co-hosting our March IWSG blog-hop.

  11. You said it really well. I agree with all your reasons not to use it. I think the writers’ strike in Hollywood only put off the inevitable. AI is coming for their jobs and I fear, ours also.

    1. Maybe in time. I have seen how poorly (even after decades) AI has worked in the field of clinical pharmacy (deciding which drug, when, how much, AND all the interactions and contradindications). It still just can’t do all the nuance that makes human clinical pharmacists so valuable in an ICU and other high level clinical settings. So maybe the writing programs won’t turn out much better. We’ll see.
      Thanks for dropping by!

  12. This was a great rundown of AI, I appreciate all the research you put into it! Laziness and bad quality are also my fears. I would like to say that readers will always know the difference between hard work and AI, but it looks like they don’t! Very sad.

    1. Yes, it is sad. I’ve noticed that articles in my news feed lately have felt very AI generated. They are awkward and sometimes circular in logic, sometimes saying virtually nothing, followed by an exclamation mark. If mainstream news feeds is already being heavily created by AI and not noticed, it does not bode well for creative writing. Thanks for dropping by!

  13. One of the other issues with using LLMs to write creative works is that LLM-generated content can’t be copyrighted. Even if an author signes their name to the thing, binds it, and releases it to the marketplace, it is not under copyright. Which mean, technically, that whenever an “author” “publishes” a book using ChatGPT, that work is immediately in the public domain, and therfore fair game for everyone else to use however they wish.

  14. Thank you for hosting. I’m glad you did! It brought me to your blog.

    I didn’t answer this month’s question because I knew there would be smart people like yourself explaining it better. I don’t know all that much about it, but this:
    “If I reach a time when I’d rather have a computer write my books for me, I’ll know it’s time to leave…”
    This is why I won’t use AI, plus all the other reasons you mentioned.

  15. Thank you for hosting. I’m glad you did! It brought me to your blog.

    I didn’t answer this month’s question because I knew there would be smart people like yourself explaining it better. I don’t know all that much about it, but your statement about quitting if it isn’t your own creative process. That’s why I won’t in its simplest form.

  16. Giving the creative process to AI, in my opinion, is cheap and robbing humans of an act that was meant for them. While AI writers have there uses, such as assisting human writers with word suggestions or pointing out grammatical problems, it is us human’s job to convey our thoughts, impressions and ideas, not machines’. I’m glad there are groups such as the Author’s Guild that advocate for the regulating of AI in the writing and other creative industries and I do support them. (I’m a member of AG.)

    This was a very insightful and informing article! Thanks for writing it! Also, thanks to you and the others for co-hosting this month!

  17. Hi, Miffie! I popped by to wish you a happy IWSG Day. I hope all is well with you. Happy writing in April!

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